Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Broadband Call to Action

Today, a range of groups from the public and private sector demonstrated their support for a national broadband strategy. Non-profit public interest orgs like Free Press, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project and the New America Foundation joined telecom and internet titans like AT&T and Google to advocate for affordable broadband access for all Americans.

The panel discussion in the Senate Dirksen building featured representatives from AT&T, Google, Free Press, Communications Workers of America, New America Foundation and more. Each speaker described the need for a comprehensive broadband strategy as essential to job creation, international competitiveness, innovation and education.

The ailing economy was front and center in the majority of panelist comments. Larry Cohen of CWA suggested that investment in broadband would create 100,000 telecom-industry jobs, and ultimately result in 2.4 million new jobs throughout the economy.

Ben Scott of Free Press outlined a few problems on the road to better broadband penetration, including availability, adoption rates (which he tied to higher speeds and lower prices), and the lack of computers and appropriate training in many neighborhoods and communities.

FMC believes that smart broadband initiatives will ultimately benefit musicians who live and work in these very communities. In fact, we think digital inclusion and broadband deployment are key to the emergence of a legitimate digital music marketplace where fans can find the music they want, and more artists can reach those fans without the interference of gatekeepers and middlemen.

As technology helps us develop and refine possible new revenue streams for musicians, it becomes all the more necessary to make sure artists can compete on a level playing field. There are encouraging signs that net neutrality — the principle that protects the open structure of the internet — will be at the core of any new broadband policies. Even AT&T — which in the past could hardly be described as pro-net neutrality — seem to have come around to recognizing the importance of open internet structures.

During his comments, Jim Cicconi of AT&T said that his company had an "explicit commitment to the open internet." However, he stopped short of suggesting there needed to be any specific regulation to determine how net neutrality hould be enforced, saying that the FCC's current principles are sufficient. Unfortunately, the vagueness of the existing principles makes them difficult to enforce, even after lengthy investigations such as the recent FCC probe into Comcast's "network management" practices.

We at FMC think it would be in everyone's best interest to have consistent and transparent rules that allow a level playing field for innovators, consumers and creators. Actually, that's the whole reason behind our Rock the Net campaign.

One thing's for sure: there's a lot of work to be done on the road to a legitimate digital music marketplace. A national broadband strategy that upholds the principles of net neutrality is definitely a step in the right direction.

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